World History

What Happened When Shackleton Was Stranded In The Antarctic For Years?

Few exploits of the 20th century could match the courage and perseverance of the Shackleton expedition. Ernest Shackleton became the ultimate model for crisis management when his ill-fated 1914 Antarctic expedition met with disaster. His ship, the Endurance, was stranded amidst the expanding ice floes of the South Atlantic. Initially forced to abandon the vessel (which would eventually sink as a result of the hull being crushed by pack ice), Shackleton established a series of temporary camps on the ice, in the hopes that his party would eventually drift closer to civilization. When this failed, Shackleton was forced to abandon most of his group on remote Elephant Island and attempt a 700-nautical mile journey to the populated outpost of South Georgia Island. The plan, a long shot at best, called for him to then return to Elephant Island with a ship to rescue the remainder of the expedition.

Shackleton and five other men successfully navigated a 20-foot lifeboat across open ocean for 15 days and reached South Georgia Island. Having landed on the remote southern side of the island, Shackleton and two others then traversed a rugged 20-mile route to the tiny port of Stromness. The three other men were quickly rescued from the south side of the island, but it would take almost five months before Shackleton would successfully rescue all 22 men that he had left behind on Elephant Island.

Shackleton died of a heart attack in 1922 and slipped into obscurity until the sheer magnitude of his inspirational journey returned him to his current status as a popular culture icon of bravery and leadership. Some facts about his incredible mission illuminate why his return to prominence was so well-deserved.